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We have to catch ourselves up in order to recognize that 'beauty' has receded or even disappeared from contemporary aesthetic theory. For, like other once influential ideas, it has simply faded away. Far more venerable than the concepts of 'fine art"- and 'aesthetic,' 2 'beauty' has been, traditionally, the dominant concept in aesthetic theory, art criticism, and ordinary aesthetic discourse. But when we catch ourselves up, we see how little the word 'beauty' occurs in works published in this century, relative to 'art' and 'aesthetic.' "What is beauty?," the question which has been at the center of aesthetic theory since the Hippias Major, is not the question put by many recent thinkers. They devote themselves to the analysis of 'fine art' and the phenomenology of aesthetic experience, inquiries in which 'beauty' is treated only casually and incidentally or else ignored altogether. As the generic value-term, 'beauty' has been replaced by some such locution as 'aesthetic value.' It is in the discussion of aesthetic value that 'beauty' gets most attention, but even here it is only one among other value-categories, and its treatment is fairly perfunctory. Only rarely is the approach of the contemporary aesthetician set forth so consciously and explicitly as it is by H. N. Lee, who says of 'beauty' that it "is best used to denote only a part of the general field of aesthetic value, and that part need not be carefully delimited, but can be left more or less vague." What is most striking about the use of 'beautiful' in current art criticism and discourse is not that the term is just one among a host of value-predicates. It is, rather, that 'beautiful' seems now often to be used pejoratively or invidiously. One can say on behalf of a work of art, "It may not be beautiful, but. . . ." Something more and, implicitly, something better than beauty is appealed to. Those modern artists who will not have it that the creation of beauty is their goal, have fostered the transvaluation of the term. When a work is only beautiful, it is inoffensive, or it is in an orthodox style or genre, or it is excessively trim or neat. Most important of all, it can be beautiful without being expressive. The latter term, more than any other probably, has supplanted 'beautiful' in our aesthetic vocabulary. It refers to those works which suggest• more than they 'say,' and/or those which expose the soul of the artist, and/or those which are 'moving,' 'stirring,' 'gripping.' Beauty, if it has the characteristics cited above, must seem pallid by comparison and to demand beauty will almost certainly obstruct the purposes of expression and expressiveness. 1 Cf. below, note 8. 2 Cf. below, text after note 26. 8 H. N. Lee, Perception and Aesthetic Value (New York, 1938), 98.
The decline of 'beauty' has taken place tacitly and, so to speak, unofficially in our own time. My purpose in this paper is to trace out the causes and the pattern of this decline. Thus far I have spoken only of the present century, roughly. But the great watershed in the history of 'beauty,' as of other aesthetic concepts, is the XVIIIth century. That century uniquely—such is the argument of the paper —set going the forces which displace 'beauty' from the position it had enjoyed in classical and Renaissance thought. What is now an unthinking gesture is the result, several times removed, of a concerted effort of reason in the XVIIIth century. The discussion will be confined to the British thinkers of the period, in whom aesthetic theory, as we know it, very largely originated' They can be readily treated together because, from the beginning of the century to its end, they share substantially the same presuppositions, methods, and purposes. And they were the prime movers in the demotion of 'beauty.' Their congenital resistance to the authority of alien traditions, their determination to make a fresh start and to think it out for themselves, their vigorous and sensitive, if often unsystematic thinking, together shattered the old intellectual frameworks and altered, for good and all, the concept which was at the heart of them. I Much of the speculation about the arts which was carried on prior to the XVIIIth century was devoted to the artistic genres. The 'rules' were formulated out of the conviction that the genres, like the genera of natural objects, "have their immutable and constant forms, their specific shape and function." 5 The compendious statement of their proper laws was the goal of innumerable Renaissance and neo-classical treatises patterned on Aristotle, Horace, and Vitruvius. But are these treatises works in 'aesthetics'? This is a large question, deserving of a fuller answer than can be given here; yet it must be raised if we are to understand the achievement of British thought. Bosanquet holds that there was "an intermission of aesthetic philosophy . . . from the time of Plotinus to the eighteenth century of our era." 6 The treatises seem to bear him out. What we now consider 'aesthetic philosophy' both employs and analyzes concepts
Cf. Ernst Cassirer, The Philosophy of the Enlightenment, trans. Koelln and Pettegrove (Boston, 1955), 312; Paul 0. Kristeller, "The Modern System of the Arts: A Study in the History of Aesthetics," this Journal, XII (1951), 496-497, XIII (1952), 27; W. J. Bate, From Classic to Romantic: Premises of Taste in Eighteenth-Century England (Cambridge, Mass., 1946), vii, 171. Also, cf. below, note 11 et seq. 5 Cassirer, op. cit., 290. 6 Bernard Bosanquet, A History of Aesthetic (London, 1922), 166f.
to designate these phenomena. William K. 7 . for the Renaissance and neo-classical theorist. then. so far as it analyzes. Prior to the XVIIIth century. 9 Cf. Bosanquet's dictum must be qualified. this concept had not yet arisen or it was only tentative and inchoate. Holt. Wimsatt.' when it is used at all." Philosophical Quarterly (1961). for he takes it to be the goal of the art-form he is discussing.' Thus Alberti. there can be no question that XVIIIth-century British thought is a major turningpoint. And yet. 133-136. though it be only in relation to the specific genre. cit. 'Beautiful.' 9 Again.n the conception of aesthetic theory justifies How much more convenient it would be to have a collective term. op. Addison gives the lead. unites the studies of all of them." but when these are present. at all systematic statement in British aesthetics. other than `aesthetic' itself. they are usually devoted to just one of the arts or to some genre. If it is there at all. Moreover. The belief may be and doubtless was largely inarticulate. there will be little or no analysis of 'beauty' in general.' the generic term which designates the value of each of the arts. "On the Significance of Lord Shaftesbury in Modern Aesthetic Theory. in a treatise devoted to the proportions of the human body or the subjects appropriate to the ode. and Cleanth Brooks.g.' hardly or not at all. Jr. speaking only of architecture. Jerome Stolnitz. 8 Cf." in Elizabeth G. It has a general and inclusive reference which 'fine art. however. limited to his particular art-form.. A treatise approaches aesthetics. The treatises are often little more than technical manuals. 11 Shaftesbury antedates the Spectator papers by a few years. 1957). waiving the historical solecism. The whole point of formulating the `rules' is that when they are satisfied and the genre thereby attains its perfection. calls for the "Number." 'Beauty' is not. Which aesthetic concept. but cf. But even if Bosanquet's judgment is too severe. the object is 'beautiful. Finishing and Collocation of the several members. 10 "On Architecture. 'the aesthetic'—to which the genre is related and of which it is a part. In the first. lacks. ed. Literary Criticism: A Short History (New York. 'beauty' results. 8 If the treatises are to be classified as 'aesthetics' at all. they are not to be ignored altogether. he says. 262.'BEAUTY' : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 187 which refer to artistic and aesthetic phenomena T generally. within a particular art. e.. unifies the various treatises? That of 'fine art. Yet beauty is the ultimate concern of the writer. the epic. The use of such a concept evidences the belief that there is a larger field of data—call it. it can only be by reference to the concept of 'beauty. aesthetic concepts which have a reference beyond the genre.. 1947).. Literary Sources of Art History (Princeton. 498. Kristeller. 510ff.
natural objects have comparable effects. Neither of the latter can appropriately define the subject that Addison wished to discuss. Greene (New York.. 24 Spectator no. grouped together with the fine arts and studied along with them. because they all have common. too "gross" 13 and insufficiently "innocent. VI. with the symmetry of any thing." 23 For Addison. 325. 411-421). a truth in the understanding is as it were reflected by the imagination . Addison did not work out this concept in any detail. - . nor could there be any reflective examination of the "causes and occasions of it. 18 Ibid. The imagination was set off from the faculties of sensation and understanding. cit. music." `Aesthetic experience' provides the conceptual generality and unity which was lacking in earlier thought. cf." Moreover. p. 21 Spectator no. 325. 421. 12 Spectator no. effects upon the imagination. p. Like his predecessors. p. 16/bid. So "the pleasures of the imagination" make up the subject matter of the Spectator papers on aesthetics (nos. Addison did not use the word "aesthetic. op. 370. 324-325. and architecture. of course. 413. "Spectator no. pp. we know not how. 13 Spectator no. 414. pp." 15 but they involve cognitive activity. ed. no. p. the sciences. however. we are able to see something like colour and shape in a notion. also. Is Ibid... "we are struck. But Addison extends the range of the aesthetic even farther. 321. 22 and intellectual activity generally: 4C . The pleasures of sense are. ." 14 The pleasures of understanding are "refined. 412. 334.. 1712.. p. in The Works of Joseph Addison." 15 When. but he distinguished the satisfaction of "a man of polite imagination" on viewing the "fields and meadows" from that of a man who delights in their possession. 324.. 325. the central concept in aesthetics is that of the faculty of aesthetic responsiveness. 411. 22 Spectator no. He speaks perceptively of the aesthetic quality to be found in history. 324. 19 Ibid. Addison does not confine himself to a single art or genre.21 Therefore nature is. in respect of its aesthetic worth. He discusses literature. 325. indeed. 14 Ibid. 23 Spectator no. at once. First edition. p. 409. 416.." But he began to move toward the conception of `the aesthetic' which was to become conspicuous in later thought. a "bent of thought. pp.188 JEROME STOLNITZ Addison's claim that it is "entirely new. . 329-330.. sculpture." which catalogues experience in terms of the faculties of awareness. The Renaissance and neo-classical treatises are constricted and unsystematic by contrast. "almost every thing about us" 24 can be aesthetically valuable." 11 there is not. 17/bid. and painting. p." 12 Following "the new way of ideas. 1856). 347-349. p. 420." 13 The "pleasures of the imagination" are further specified by their disinterestedness.
e. Addison finds that 'the pleasures of the imagination' can be aroused not only by what is beautiful. 327. however. no. it is for the most part relatively illdefined. "pleasures of the imagination when experience is non-sensual. Spectator 25 26 Spectator Cf. 346. 412. 1728). Addison makes a conscious attempt to define the field of study. sublime. p.. ... Addison's argument that the 'rules' are not of the first importance in criticism. 415. 2. non-cognitive and disinterested. Italics omitted. 'beauty' is its distinguishing concept.' i. who announces that he will proceed by "a diligent examination of our passions in our own breasts. since certainty is only attainable by distinct attention to what we are conscious happens in our minds. then." This concept is logically prior to and inclusive of 'art' and 'beauty. 27 [Francis Hutcheson]." 28 The job of the aesthetician is that of 'the new way of ideas. the conditions under which an object in a given genre achieves beauty. Even so considered. p.(BEAUTY) : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 189 But if the concepts of 'art' and 'the aesthetic' take on new prominence in Addison. He no longer.25 has its counterpart in his aesthetic theory. 1958). as Hutcheson put it. An Essay on the Nature and Conduct of the Passions and Affections (London.' Aesthetic experience has become the chief concern of the theorist and. Speculation centers upon 'the nature of beauty' and 'beautiful' is used to designate aesthetic value of whatever kind.e.' 26 Here. also. The search for 'rules." 27 The aversion to abstract theorizing is shared by all our philosophers. but it is most virulent in Burke.e. in the first instance at least.. A Philosophical Enquiry into the Origin of our Ideas of the Sublime and Beautiful (1757). to inventorize 'the pleasures of no. 321. 1. For objects can be aesthetically valuable in other ways than just being beautiful. cf. Boulton (London. ed. and it is not the sole category of aesthetic value.. 28 Edmund Burke. and by things that are 'novel' or 'uncommon. no. looks outward to the genres. "we need little reasoning or argument. p.' i. just the opposite is true of 'beauty." i. 409. Far more than any other. its meaning is no longer the sole or even the chief problem for the theorist. The distinguishing concept is "the aesthetic. as we shall see in detail in the following section. but also by things that are 'great. II The British were buoyed by the Lockean conviction that. he devotes himself to the examination of its felt quality. 'beauty' is no longer unique. becomes a secondary question. is the significance of Addison's 'entirely new' approach for the concept of 'beauty': insofar as 'aesthetic theory' occurs at all prior to the XVIIIth century.' viz.' Therefore 'beauty' is no longer the central concept in aesthetics.
Logically. Since it is 'perceptions' which are in question. the ridiculous. 84 Ibid. $1 Op. Thus Alexander Gerard analyzes 'taste' into the following 'simple principles': novelty. Only the former concerns us here. a half-century after Addison." 34 Third. He does so because of the deliverances of introspection. takes over the latter's triad and adds several more. first. far more than any previous age. 'beauty' is one among a number of 'principles' which are subordinate to 'taste' and coordinate but independent among themselves. 74. . 1759 1 . it is an enumeration of the kinds of aesthetic response and of the various classes of aesthetic objects. I want to call attention. and the rest are not derivative from or compounded out of it. for Alexander Gerard. as 'imagination' was for Addison. Therefore Gerard regards Addison's scheme as not adequate to "the sentiments of taste in all its forms. Gerard affirms this by saying that "the powers of taste are . 151-153n. 17642 ). cit. to the very complexity of Gerard's scheme. concentrated upon the nature of the aesthetic response. sublimity. for Gerard. I.. " Rene Wellek. novelty. The XVIIIth century. imitation.' 'beauty' is not even the most interesting. for Gerard." 81 Hence the second thing that I would emphasize is that. beauty. Psychologically.190 JEROME STOLNITZ the imagination' or 'the emotions of taste' and reduce them to psychological simples. harmony." 33 And he describes a sense as "a power which supplies us with such simple perceptions as cannot be conveyed by any other channel. virtue. 1955). the effect upon the spectator was either ignored altogether or referred to by means of some omnium-gatherum term such as 'pleasure' or 'delight' s° The new way of ideas' puts a premium on. the 'principles of taste' are 'simple' 32 and therefore irreducible to each other. is indeed devoted to the meticulous discrimination of different kinds of 'ideas' or 'perceptions' from each other. cf. The lumping together of diverse aesthetic responses therefore gives way to a great proliferation of the 'species' of such response. When aesthetic thought was directed principally to the art-form or genre. of the various 'principles.. what is experienced as a difference in kind is a difference in kind. cit. 88 Op.. 28 . we can now see how 'beauty' stands in Gerard's theory. It might be added that. to be reckoned senses. 94. . In more recent jargon. 150-151n. So Gerard." He intends this to be an exhaustive enumeration of the 'perceptions' which are peculiar to taste and therefore of their corresponding objects. A History of Modern Criticism (London. Like Shaftesbury and Hutcheson before him. `Taste' is the foundational concept. Italics omitted. An Essay on Taste (Edinburgh. sublimity. 32 Phenomenologically though not. 21. 151n. analytically.
uneasiness. 41 Ibid.g. 91. stillness and amazement. Monk. to be pleasurable. he treats beauty and sublimity at equal length. however. Gerard. 1788)." For Burke. when they are. 88 Ibid. At the very same time." 85 is still held. and others. Lord Kames.. 328. 327-328. For though he devotes much more attention to beauty and sublimity than to the others. .. before reference to note 26.. cf. 46. At the beginning of the century. 411. Like the century generally." "sublime" is defined by reference to "delight. is beautiful. 1935).. p. 36. Addison sets off 'sublimity' from 'beauty' 36 and he. pp. the traditional view that "Whatever. The Sublime: A Study of Critical Theories in XVIII-Century England (New York. " Op. I—II. 7th ed. beauty and sublimity are. 328. they are not only separate but very nearly irreconcilable. however. above. . 331. we must turn to Edmund Burke who.. 412. considered beauty and sublimity irreducibly distinct. 45 Ibid. p. 86 Cf. Monk. 59. To show this. cit. I. Yet he argued that an object cannot be sublime unless it possesses some of the attributes of beauty." Gerard." whereas sublime objects are "too big" 40 for the mind to grasp. e. chaps.. 211-213. indeed. Still he took the experience of the sublime.. 329. but rather "blended with . quoted in Samuel H." 45 an affective state which is not pleasurable and yet not merely painful." 87 that of beauty as "cheerfulness and delight. For the impact of 'sublimity' upon aesthetic thought is the single most potent force in dislodging 'beauty' from its formerly unchallenged primacy among the value-categories. our pleasure is increased 4 1 Lord Kames asserted that the emotions of beauty and sublimity are clearly different. introduce various other categories into aesthetics alongside that of "beauty. Addison described the experience of the sublime as one of "astonishment . like that of beauty. 11. . .. Yet he believed that the properties of beauty and sublimity can be united in the same object and that. op.`BEAUTY' : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 191 Gerard. (Edinp burgh. of all the British. 412. 46 Ibid. Elements of Criticism (1762). Whereas beauty arouses pleasure ("love"). ST Spectator no." Of all these concepts. is sublime. as are most of the properties. not only distinct but mutually exclusive. 48 Op. 42 [Henry Home]. as we have seen. Italics in original. cit." 46 The sublime induces "that 85 Joseph Trapp. pp. 324-325. conceptually. cit." " Moreover. existentially. set forth the opposition between "beauty" and "sublimity" most vigorously and uncompromisingly. he took beautiful objects to be symmetrical. "sublimity" is incomparably the most important. Burke marks the distinction between them by examining felt experience. 40 Spectator no. proportion. . pp. 39 Spectator no. On the meaning and use of "sublime" prior to the XVIIIth century.
confused. 149-151... another of the attributes of sublime objects is their 'obscurity.. been used casually by earlier theorists to describe the aesthetic response. . however. He nowhere says this explicitly. 73. beauty but antithetical to it. 51 Ibid. for Burke. 'harmony.' 52 sometimes co-exist in the same thing. 56 Ibid. Closely related to the classical insistence on form is the demand for clarity and lucidity in the object. 49 Ibid. he concludes. he ranged their attributes in mutual opposition: the sublime is vast. but rather 'relaxes' and 'melts. 53 Ibid. note 30.' occurs in veritably aesthetic experience. the experience thus described.. without detriment to the distinctive character of each. and of nature as well." symmetry. such terms as 'pleasure' which had.51 Burke grants that these properties may. he is concerned with intense emotional arousal and he in sists that the sublime "is productive of the strongest emotion which 47 Ibid.' 61 It is this last aspect of the experience of sublimity.' 48 The upshot is that it is 'hard' or 'impossible' for the experience of beauty to be had at the same time as that of sublimity. For Burke. with some degree of horror" 47 . its intense emotion. furthermore. below. 57 58 Ibid.' etc.. On the side of the percipient. the feeling of horror. i.' 59 "[A] great clearness helps but little towards affecting the passions. 50 Cf. and the other arts." On the side of the object. Cf. 60. cf." When Burke turned to the objects of these experiences.. 55 Ibid. which seems to make it of greater value than the experience of beauty.. 52 Ibid. however. the beautiful." the beautiful. uncertain. 57. 125. 159.. 113-114... 72-74.192 JEROME STOLNITZ state of the soul.. Still they betokened the belief that the aesthetic experience is free of 'negative' feelings. above. and so on. 124.e.e. 60 Ibid. 5.' 58 i. Burke is here describing "astonishment.. they defy and transcend." 6° whereas we are moved most greatly by what is 'dark. is taken to be of greater value than that of beauty. sublime objects are 'vast' and 'infinite. though only in 'some degree." were doubtless excessively vague." For Burke. the beautiful does not paralyze. small. 'in the infinite variety of natural combinations. 58-60. they remain 'opposite and contradictory. also. delicate. 61 Ibid. in which all its motions are suspended. any formal ordering and bounds. note 77ff. Throughout.. 57. 69 Ibid." the "highest" effect of the sublime.55 in the perception of poetry. 54 Cf. Even then. the sublime is rugged.' 58 This theory admits into the realm of the aesthetic and legitimizes elements not only different from those traditionally associated with.. For Burke. 59ff.. 59. 48/bid. music. the property of beauty had traditionally been identified with some kind of formal ordering.
As the contradictory of 'beauty. the field of aesthetics was no longer organized around the concept of 'beauty' and second. and content." 67 The concept of sublimity has been less prominent in recent thought than it was for Burke and most XVIIIth-century thinkers.' it had necessarily been excluded. it is largely because the concept of 'sublimity' first pointed up the limitations and deficiencies of 'mere beauty. 119. T. the stimulation even of painful emotions. above. Burke pushes back the boundaries of the aesthetic.. in the XVIIIth century. 82.' by contrast. But if 'expressive' now parallels 'beautiful' in importance. 'Expressive. however. 68 Ibid. . emotional power. cit. . of course. but to a greater extent than any of them. 68 'the expressive. 'obscurity.. style. 39.' It is remarkable. a relatively rare phenomenon. .' III The three sections of this paper treat the concept of 'beauty' at levels of decreasing generality. 67 Ibid. I tried to show first that. Stace. " Lord Kames later says that the sublime "raises the most delightful of all emotions. Kames is not.. however. fragile and attenuated.( BEAUTY' : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 193 the mind is capable of feeling." 62 The experience of beauty comes to seem slight by contrast and beauty itself. therefore. it is probably. If there is any one category which has supplanted 'beauty' in our own time. second paragraph.. usually associated with the perception of ugliness. the terrible." lxxv. and he holds that ugliness can become sublime when "united with such qualities as excite a strong terror. 119." Op.. Yet it is important to note that he takes it to be "consistent" 66 with the sublime. 1929). I suggested earlier."' " In common with all of the XVIIIth-century British thinkers. 248. almost in its very nature. the absence of formal preciseness. which is a kind of aesthetic value. 65 W. "Introduction.' Sublimity is. 68 Cf. the satirical . when 'beauty' is no longer identified with 'aesthetic value' and when the 'negative' feelings of pain and aversion. why not the ugly as well?" 65 Burke's discussion of ugliness is very brief and unsatisfactory. 'Sublime' cannot. once aesthetics accepts "the sublime. are admitted into aesthetic experience. It can be and is applied to works of art which are highly diverse in their scale. how many of the characteristics of Burke's `sublimity' have attached themselves to 'expressiveness. 66 Ibid. I. The final step logically would be to make room for ugliness within the realm of aesthetic value. Such necessity no longer obtains. serve as the garden variety predicate which designates the most frequent kind of aesthetic value. using 'delightful' in Burke's sense. As a XXth-century philosopher has put it. can function in this way because it has a much wider denotation. that 'beauty' was no 62 Ibid.' viz. The Meaning of Beauty (London..
I shall argue.. 70. David Hume.. 4th ed. Green and Grose (London. (London. relational whereas 'uniformity amidst variety' on any showing is not. it marked off a kind of experience distinguishable introspectively from other kinds of aesthetic experience. op. If there is any inconsistency in this. He finds that it is 'uniformity amidst variety.' when it was not proclaimed overtly." 72 Hence. Hutcheson's 'absolute beauty' only is in question here. it is unimportant. Italics in original. helps to explain its present status in aesthetic theory. for Hutcheson. I see not how they could be called beautiful. also. Cf. Even so considered. for he speaks of 'examining' 73 or 'discovering' 74 the salient property. Yet even if it lost pride of place. in the first instance. an idea. Except where otherwise indicated. 69 . it was so used in the XVIIIth century. 268-269.. 14-15. . the word beauty is taken for the idea raised in us.71 He will not consider it a property whose existence and nature are independent of perception: "[Were] there no mind with a sense of beauty to contemplate objects.. the concept suffers a profound transformation. He does so when he speaks of beauty in the objective sense as the 'real quality in . III. however. 1875). 79 [Francis Hutcheson]. does not preclude trying to determine which property or properties make things beautiful. been used traditionally to denote objects or the property of objects. however." The transposition of the terms was marked implicitly by the introduction of such locutions as 'the emotion of beauty' or 'the per ception of beauty. however. 7. 'beauty' came to designate one of the species of 'taste' or 'imagination. 7. 75 Ibid. 7." 7° Like all the British. . which.. that beauty is. Italics omitted. Gerard. Indeed." in Philosophical Works. objects' which 'excites' the idea of beauty. as by Hutcheson: "Let it be observed. 71 Ibid. 74 Ibid. We have seen that when the British took the turn inward.. ed. Cf. so long as Hutcheson remained faithful to his original intent by construing 'beautiful' as a relational predicate. 43. Hutcheson also spoke of 'beauty' in things and not simply as a figure of speech. cit.' 75 Since 'beautiful' is. This is an empirical question. Hutcheson treats it as such. 17.194 JER011E STOLNITZ longer the sole nor even the chief value-category. 1738). 'beauty' might still have been used to denote one important kind of aesthetic experience and aesthetic value. 16. This can be called the phenomenal sense of beauty.' For Addison and his successors. that in the following papers. The terms 'beauty' and 'beautiful' had. all future references to 'beauty' are to this sense of the term. "Of the Standard of Taste. 79 Ibid. An Inquiry into the Original of our Ideas of Beauty and Virtue (1725). 72 Ibid. I shall call this the objective sense... similarly. the latter cannot express the meaning of the former.
but they are not beautiful. 80.. somehow. becomes clear later when he so defines `sense of beauty' that it can respond only to "objects in which there is uniformity amidst variety. Else. as had at first appeared. Yet it seems quite clear that Hutcheson will not accept this possibility. 76 " Ibid. in one form or another. 4. and utility. harmony.`BEAUTY' : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 195 It remains an empirical questiori whether objects which possess uniformity in variety do. non-relativist theories had singled out to define `beauty' in the objective sense. What we see here in Hutcheson can be seen. the relativism endemic to `the new way of ideas' or. also. for it cannot be otherwise. The British had then. 80. Ibid. more precisely. There must therefore be at least the possibility of negative evidence. indeed. which are not naturally apt to give any such pleasures. cf. for Hutcheson. and a liking to others void of it. they must hold that. among the conceptions of `beauty' which stimulated much of the dialectic of British aesthetic theory. but under different conceptions than those of beauty or deformity. in all of the British aestheticians. They are `unnaturally' agreeable. as the properties which earlier." 76 But he does not take this to be negative evidence.. refers to a percipient. Nor do objects of the former class forfeit their claim to be called `beautiful' when they fail to please.. He grants that objects which should `naturally' arouse the `pleasant idea of beauty' sometimes fail to do so and that we sometimes find "objects pleasant and delightful. viz. . `excite' the idea of beauty and whether only they do so.. uniformity in variety.. an empirical generalization." 77 That this is a necessary. Italics omitted. proportion. 79 Op. the received theories of objective beauty. I. Hutcheson nowhere admits that objects of the latter kind induce the distinctive idea of beauty. 78 Ibid. Having taken the turn inward. 73. to establish a particularly strong connection between the occurrence of these properties and the appropriate experience in the percipient. as Kames puts it. in its very conception. "Beauty. cit. It is this tension within the conception of `beauty' or. 208. they identify the properties in virtue of which things are beautiful to the percipient.." 79 At the same time. on the one hand. "[Men] have an aversion to objects of beauty. not a factual truth." 78 That beautiful objects possess uniformity in variety is not. must be given up. 81-83. on the other. None of these has any inherent reference to felt response. chiefly when the besetting problem of `taste' had to be faced up to. Hutcheson guaranteed the relation between `uniformity amidst variety' and the experience of beauty by making any other impossible.
or universally. cit. cit. 15. the objects of the experience of beauty. on the next. in fact. 82 Ibid. engage in a vigorous polemic against those of his contemporaries. Italics in original. and proportion 'render' things beautiful 8° for they 'are naturally productive' 81 of the sentiment of beauty. that they did not all immediately agree that it was beautiful. 88 Op.. The formulas of 'unity. were now called into question. p cit. the concept of objective beauty seems to have become intractable. and Burke tried to keep out the nasty facts in one way or another. felt response is the indispensable and decisive evidence of the existence of beauty. 81 Ibid. like their fellows. As the century grew older. 74." 82 Or one could simply deny that there is any problem. issuing finally in skepticism that any such formula exists. nature is found to be less stable and assured than could be wished. thought to ground their respective theories of beauty on experiential fact. are. Gerard. there was increasingly greater discouragement over the possibility of finding any formula that would work. It is therefore meeting them on their own terms to adduce evidence that objects possessing the properties which they singled out are not solely. Thus Burke: "I never remember that any thing beautiful . ." 83 These.. But such ad hoc devices could not long remain effective in an age committed to empiricism. though it were to an hundred people. I shall treat the critique of the various theories of beauty under the headings. op. 80 0-. I. These polemics left their mark. the constituents of excellence. Yet here as elsewhere in XVIIIth-century thought.' and the rest. For all XVIIIth-century British aesthetics..' The concept was therefore especially vulnerable in an age whose temper was critical. A man would put forward his theory of objective beauty on one page and. Karnes. The first type of argument is 'empirical' just in the sense that it appeals to the data of aesthetic experience. comparable contrivances evidence the dialectical instability of 'beauty. in this latter stage.. 84 Cf. Moreover. or both. with few exceptions. affected by the qualities we have investigated: but these qualities themselves are. to explain why it had to be rejected. without any exception. 74. variety. not to say irreverent." We have seen that Hutcheson. 129. and the critique of the concept itself under the heading. 378. . the empirical argument and the phenomenological argument. .. was ever shewn.196 JEROME STOLNITZ Gerard held that uniformity. these philosophers. the logical argument. attention was directed to its logical character. When. which had passed muster in previous ages.' 'proportion. Gerard would not therefore abandon his theory of objective beauty: "Men. and other.
' That there is a mode of attention and perception peculiar to the aesthetic experience. They could and did retain their prominence when there was no obligation in theory to put them to the test of aesthetic experience." 86 Against "uniformity in variety": "[This] definition. as we have seen. and from every other which you can fix. 65 87 . The phenomenological argument is used less frequently. the paper referred to above. we find nothing there so beautiful as flowers." 87 Whereupon Kames adds a logical point: "[To] define beauty as arising from beautiful objects blended together in a due proportion of uniformity and variety. p. For it is based on an idea which originates in the XVIIIth century and has been a chief legacy of that century to later aesthetic theory: 'the aesthetic attitude. with proportions different. as we shall see. 1780). is far from being just with respect to beauty in general: variety contributes no share to the beauty of a moral action. [Uniformity] amid variety among ugly objects. (Bloomington. 6. rather facile and not very sophisticated. . in the history of aesthetics. it undermines belief in all of them. How many birds are there that vary infinitely from each of these standards [of proportion]. 90 "Harmony." 89 This kind of argument is doubtless. Gilbert and Helmut Kuhn. and we may remark of artificial ornaments.' and especially the first. ." . affords no pleasure. Donaldson. 1953). was first explicitly recognized by Lord Shaftesbury 91 and. cit. The British turn the empirical argument against each of them and. the following may suffice: Against "proportion": "Turning our eyes to the vegetable creation. we know.. But its cumulative effect in XVIIIthcentury thought cannot be ignored. rev. 89 J." Katherine E. 325. 95. is fairly rudimentary.9° are as venerable as can be. Indiana. Burke. 92 86 Ibid. I. 92 Cf. but since the argument from negative instances. so much a commonplace in our own time..' `uniformity in variety' and 'utility. has been the accepted synonym for beauty or for the artist's goal through all the ages of a philosophy of art. Kames. . nor of a mathematical theorem. however applicable to one or other species. that they are mostly of little or no utility." 88 Against "utility" or "fitness": "[A] toad is as fit for the purposes of its nature as a turtle-dove. 324-325. as I have noted.. ed. would be too gross to pass current.`BEAUTY' : HISTORY OF AN IDEA 197 Any number of examples could be quoted. 91 Cf. . but it is considerably more interesting. op. above. note 11. by Addison.. 186. but flowers are almost of every sort of shape. cit. and of every sort of disposition.. 188. here as elsewhere. The Elements of Beauty (Edinburgh. 86 Ibid. and often directly opposite to each other! and yet many of these birds are extremely beautiful. A History of Aesthetics. 94. The theories of 'proportion' or `harmony. op.
98 Ibid. the Passions and Affections. painful.' in the sense that it takes place without discursive reflection. 100 Ibid. Characteristics (1711). if the latter is even "accompanied" by the former." 1" But " 98 Anthony. Francis Hutcheson. 94 Ibid. 1900). I. cit. 63. also. The percipient can then be disinterested. on the grounds of 1). the appearance of beauty as effectually causes some degree of love in us. 27. not in relation to one's personal advantage. ed. 92. as the application of ice or fire produces the ideas of heat or cold. 99 Op." Indeed. . or are the occasions of it. 95 Francis Hutcheson. 1896). II. and that without any knowledge of the cause of this pleasure or pain. then.e. There is a subtle form of this theory. Hutcheson admonished. or without feeling to what farther advantage or detriment the use of such objects might tend.. . anyone. . the sense of beauty]." then. 251: II. before we can have any pleasure by this sense [i." of which this is not true." which he thought obscurantist and uneconomical. ." 98 Burke vigorously repudiated the theory of the "inner senses. Both emphasized two aspects of the aesthetic attitude: 1) The aesthetic percipient is not motivated by personal advantage. Hutcheson therefore distinguished very sharply the "joy" aroused by an object "upon our apprehending ourselves possessed of it" from the experience of beauty. Earl of Shaftesbury. or how the objects excite it. II. .. ed. On this view. so far from being beautiful.. 96 David Hume. 364. that of 'usefulness' is most obviously vulnerable to this argument. 55-56." Yet he took over completely the belief in aesthetic immediacy which Shaftesbury and Hutcheson had expressed by means of this theory: ". 28. Inquiry into . Italics omitted. I. it is not even aesthetic." Hutcheson later united 1) and 2) by describing aesthetic "perceptions" as "pleasant and . . Cf. 137. also. Selby-Bigge (Oxford. but as the objective property of a thing which is skilfully adapted to certain ends that someone. 576ff. 16. Cf. A System of Moral Philosophy (London. I. does or might pursue. he attends to the object 'for its own sake. immediately. cannot do so. .. utility is apprehended.198 JEROME tarroLiviTz in the opening years of the century. Robertson (London. 97 Essay on .' 98 2) Aesthetic response is 'immediate. Italics omitted. also. 1755). 171-172. A Treatise of Human Nature (1739).. we must be very great indeed. 102.. because the perception of these properties is incompatible with the aesthetic attitude. 127-128. . 4.. Beauty and Virtue. however. he cannot be disinterested.. . cf. On a more straightforward version of the theory. Of the prevailing theories of beauty." 95 The phenomenological argument is the argument that certain properties which have been thought to make things beautiful. 296. If the utility of the object is considered with an eye to one's "farther advantage or detriment. suggested by Hume.
The empirical argument proceeded by the fairly simpleminded method of showing that some beautiful objects do not possess the property in question and that others which do. This argument can function at all only if such a phrase as 'uniformity in variety' is thought to have a determinate meaning and denotation.108 In later authors. 92." 107 Indeed. ed.... but only by reason." 109 By the closing decades of the century. Proportions.. but proportion is "a creature of the understanding. 108 Ibid. has turned into despair. 102 By the middle of the century. in the phenomenal sense. ." 101 Burke's argument. . 107 Ibid. 112. the attack upon the formulas takes Et new turn. when it is commonly held to be a necessary ingredient in beauty of whatever kind. cit.. 109 Donaldson. 119. "the comparing parts one with another. Donaldson (1780) says at the 101 Alciphron.. whether beauty be at all an idea belonging to proportion. the considering them as belonging to one whole [is] the work of reason. strictly speaking.. their logical status is altered and diminished: "It may surprise some readers to find variety treated as only contributing to make a train of perceptions pleasant. 1871). perceived by the sense of sight. rather than containing a description alone of what is beautiful. rational processes is required.'BEAUTY': HISTORY OF AN IDEA 199 this is not how proportion is apprehended. cit. are not. such skepticism moved into the forefront of aesthetic thought and took a firm hold. 199ff.. 105 Ibid. II.'. 108 Lord Karnes did not go so far." 105 and "utility. Italics in original. 5. 198. 324. therefore. 305ff. Karnes' skepticism of any such formula was expressed almost incidentally in the middle of his chapter on humor. Burke repudiated each and all of the traditional theories of beauty. therefore." 106 But in Karnes. Twenty years later. for he continued to avail himself of "uniformity and variety. op. 104 0p cit. . the empirical and phenomenological arguments made themselves felt. Thus Donaldson says of 'uniformity and variety' that they are "terms comprehending the nature of all things." 1" "proportion. As Berkeley had put it. fail to arouse beauty. then. rather than a primary cause acting on the senses and imagination". 1°6 Ibid. . discouragement over the possibility of finding a successful formula of objective beauty. Kames became skeptical that there are any properties common to all beautiful objects. the mediation of discursive. cit. For that. ch. in The Works of George Berkeley. Fraser (Oxford.. This is shown in various ways. "I have great reason to doubt. -108 Op. The more subtle and far more damning criticism is to show that this is not the case. 102 Op. 273. can be set out in this way: "[Beauty] demands no assistance from our reasoning". IX.
that they have supposed all things. (Edinburgh. above. by defining 'beauty. 1815). indeed." 11° Alison (1790). 115 Beauty. Lectures on Rhetoric and Belles Lettres (1783).. fails to find "any single principle" acceptable. not because of this or that version of the empirical or the phenomenological argument. to Addison. however.200 JEROME STOLNITZ very beginning of his work: "The common error of most of our modern writers on beauty has been. 111 Archibald Alison." 116 There is therefore no a priori limitation upon the things that might become members of the class of 'beautiful objects. 316. 316. 92. 118 Cf. arouse the appropriate experience. note 44. is applied to almost every thing that pleases us. "almost every thing about us [has] the power of raising an agreeable idea in the imagination." 111 The fin-de-siecle theorists might have concluded that no previous theory had made out the properties which are common and peculiar to beautiful things. to Alison. 4th 112 Ibid." 112 In this. Cf. cit. in the objective sense. but that a new and more enlightened effort might do so. .' If a thing does. Hugh Blair. The difficulty. but because of the dialectical tension at the very heart of British aesthetics. 'beauty. 115 Op. note 38. is 110 Ibid. "true to a certain extent. I. . (London. is not that there are now a great many things to which `beautiful' is properly applied. ." 118 but the whole impulse of British aesthetics was to encourage and sanction such usage. must accordingly mean "that which arouses the 'idea' or 'perception' of beauty. cit. 43. ultimately. designates some phenomenal state: 'cheerfulness' (Addison).. also. note 24. 197. Italics in original. for 'harmony' or any other formula. which is. above. 114 Cf... The formulas had to be given up. note 71 et seq. indeed a fatal one. "altogether impossible.' in the first instance. 117 Cf. The formulas were inherited from ways of thinking whose conception of beauty was exclusive and aristocratic. I. The paramount difficulty. their instincts were surely right. when the range of 'beauty' becomes catholic and inclusive. . though I believe also. ed.' For the new way of thinking. did so. I. in order to appear completely beautiful. As we have already seen. he says. 113 'love' (Burke ))114 or 'sweetness and gaiety' (Kames). in fact. 1809). it gains entry. that they have arisen from a partial view of the subject. Essays on the Nature and Principles of Taste (1790). Yet instead of seeking other formulas. above. 116 cf above. 118 Op. who initiated the new way of thinking. I." 117 Gerard deplored the fact that "beauty . they questioned the very enterprise of seeking formulas. These "principles" are. 5.. 11th ed. similarly. subject to one fixed principle. 'Harmony' or 'unity' set off a fairly limited class of objects.
120 Op. The argument was put forth at the turn of the century. the irrelevance of the traditional question was as yet only dimly recognized. It is. who proclaims and gives impetus to the Copernican Revolution in aesthetics. also. sometimes do not. Martin Kallich. at the beginning of the century. at its end. As we have seen. though in neither case "under the conceptions of beauty and deformity. 192-193. XLIII (1946). The aesthetic percipient is installed at the center of things and his response determines which objects are beautiful. and Kames. cit. 422. setting themselves to study the nature and conditions of aesthetic response." 123 Alison accepts and insists upon the conclusion which Hutcheson would not accept. At this point. 645-651.' Yet it is Hutcheson himself. is instructive here.' BEAUTY': HISTORY OF AN IDEA 201 that there can be no limits in theory to the area within which the properties of beautiful things are to be sought. in any event foreign to the experience of beauty itself. A theory such as Alison's demanded a above. the old question.. association: "Associations of ideas make objects pleasant and delightful. 73.obtrusion. 'accidental. cit. as he says. 130..84-85. For Hutcheson it is. So far from being casual or accidental. 121 Ibid. Cf. e. which therefore disrupts 'natural' perception. that even when the association is wholly personal or eccentric.287-288. even more than his predecessors Shaftesbury and Addison. II. were all to find the mechanisms of association at work in the experience of beauty. II. 119 Cf.. are connected with our own private affections or remembrances. At this point. 24. The contrast between Hutcheson. which are not naturally apt to give any such pleasures. 73. to Hutcheson objects which lack uniformity in variety sometimes please and others which possess the property. It is beautiful just because it has triggered the association. association becomes the uniquely crucial element in aesthetic experience. . too. It must therefore be accredited as legitimately aesthetic." becomes not so much unanswerable as irrelevant. and Alison. "Which properties in things make them beautiful?.." 120 So association is. "The Associationist Criticism of Francis Hutcheson and David Hume.. Not surprisingly.. . It must be something idiosyncratic." Studies in Philology... indeed.g. 4. I. . there is nothing to keep 'beautiful' from being infinitely accommodating in its denotation. Hume. 3ff. Gerard. Later thinkers.. of course. association occurs widely or pervasively. however. 123 Op. when "certain qualities or appearances ." 124 the object of perception is beautiful." 119 Hutcheson wished to explain these facts and the explanation must. I. 122 Cf. cf. chiefly.' 121 an . It is against this background that the logical argument must be understood. viz. note 77. in Alison. Finally. definitive of "the emotion of beauty. 124 Ibid. be found within the percipient. I.
B.. The formulas had to fail because the term 'beauty' is highly polyguous or intolerably vague.' csublimity. 128 Ibid. 211.' etc.'" The working capital of his own theory—`beauty. The logical argument is the argument that it is systematically impossible to determine which properties are common and peculiar to beautiful things or whether there are any such properties. no quality can be found which belongs in common to any three objects in the series. his chief problems and concepts are all of a piece with its thought. The Beautiful. attention turned to language and linguistic usage. also.. but the success of their speculations has been so inconsiderable that little can be inferred from them but the impossibility of the problem to which they have been directed. 127 Stewart. at the same time. E. He is." Walter John Hipple.. 522. II. a beautiful constitution of government." 127 These theories "have evidently originated in a prejudice. Stewart surveys all of the XVIIIth century retrospectively. Philosophical Essays (Edinburgh. and must consequently include some essential idea common to every individual to which the generic term can be applied. Stewart points out that A may have a quality in common with B. 129 Ibid." Given objects A. the collapse of the formulas was so patent in the thought of the century that it must be explained. also." 125 This was a passing observation in Kames but in Dugald Stewart it became much more.202 JEROME STOLNITZ radically different understanding of 'beauty and it was too soon for that. "while. Hippie describes him as "a writer who aimed to subsume and reinterpret the speculation of the century. cf. Jr. however. 214."taste. But though there was nothing to replace them. Ill. D. I. 284. 217. 1957). Italics omitted. 1810). C with D.. B with C. and D with E. Lord Karnes had already thought it worth remarking that men apply 'beautiful' not only to sensory objects but also in speaking of "a beautiful theorem.. Stewart falls chronologically outside the XVIIIth century but. Italics in original. 197. 128 125 Op.—that when a word admits of a variety of significations. . these significations must all be species of the same genus. 222. Italics in original.. to ascertain the common quality or qualities. 210 130 Ibid." 1 " The Cit." 128 Stewart undertakes to explain the "great variety of acceptations" of "the word Beauty" 129 and he comes up with a scheme much like Wittgenstein's "family resemblances. as I indicate above. which has descended to modern times from the scholastic ages. What is there about 'beauty' in the objective sense which makes it intractable? Appropriate to a philosophical twilight. above.—is inherited from the century. which entitles a thing to the denomination of beautiful. sufficiently detached from its concerns to point to their futility and to diagnose the causes: "It has long been a favourite problem with philosophers. C. Prof. Cf. note 87.. The Sublime. and the Picturesque in Eighteenth-Century British Aesthetic Theory (Carbondale.
or a period. in the absence of a scrupulous definition of "the aesthetic attitude. . above. a moral excellence. Still." Yet it is transformed in this way that the term seems to emerge out of the ferment of their thought. however. 'beauty. when the British converted 'beautiful' into a relational predicate. echoes Karnes in noting that 'beautiful' is applied to "a material substance. 134 Ibid. An Analytical 133 Ibid. in Payne Knight's phrase. of the most vague and extensive meaning. or an intellectual theorem.'BEAUTY': HISTORY OF AN IDEA 203 meaning of 'beauty. Inquiry into the Principles of Taste (London.' are caught in the crossfire of the empirical and phenomenological arguments. above. None of their predecessors had taken. even if only the quality common to A and B. to be merely "a general term of approbation. 9. The term may.' though they have no property in common. The last of the XVIIIth-century British theorists called attention to it because they knew that the same thing had happened at the level of conceptual analysis throughout the century. lose its purchase." 134 They sought to restrict beauty to that particular kind of aesthetic experience which it arouses. Then it points to nothing in the object but only registers the fact that the object has induced a certain experience.' Stewart explains. but it was not easy to set limits to the experience." The concept of "beauty" commended itself to traditional thought because of the assumption that it had or could be given a determinate 131 Cf. they invited precisely the consequence which Payne Knight decries. even on Stewart's showing. No 'single principle' 131 exists. viz. More important.' in the objective sense. "a general term of approbation. Thus A and E are now both called 'beautiful. that "beauty" is nothing but. note 118. 'beauty' retains the 'signification' of some quality. that the term is "applied indiscriminately to almost every thing that is pleasing." 133 This dissolving of preciseness and accompanying promiscuity of application is not merely a linguistic phenomenon." 132 But he also makes this acute observation: "The word Beauty is a general term of approbation.. Richard Payne Knight." "a problem. note 111. 132 Knight. not on some one referential meaning but on referential meaning altogether. Indeed. a contemporary of Stewart." it was difficult to keep "beauty" from being applied even to what pleases non-aesthetically. Cf. The way is open to the view of recent thinkers. a syllogism. It follows from this striking and forceful argument that the traditional quest for essence is necessarily futile. has broadened and then altered imperceptibly as it has been applied successively to the objects in such a series. 18052).. 'Harmony' and the other concepts with which they had thought to assign referential significance to 'beauty. 9.
The effect can be seen in recent aestheticians. to put it summarily.'" they treat it. 135 Cf. but with a great deal of diffidence and reserve. . above. Either they give up on the concept altogether.. After the XVIIIth century.204 JEROME STOLNITZ meaning and therefore a viable application to objects or to the properties of objects. resigning themselves to its insuperable vagueness. like Professor Lee. note 3." University of Rochester. viz. this assumption is weakened or vitiated for many thinkers. or. to concentrate on "use" rather than "meaning. Or they take a radically different approach from that of earlier thought.
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